UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson pulls down a rebound against Cal State Northridge. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
First, a word from UCLA Coach Ben Howland on the departure of junior center Joshua Smith:
"We're going to work extremely hard with the group that we have," Howland said Wednesday after his team beat Cal State Northridge, 82-56. "I'm going to coach my tail off to help this team reach its potential. Our biggest obstacle is the health issue, staying healthy with a limited number of players."
Another issue for UCLA is zone defense, which is not exactly Howland's specialty. In fact, Howland all but despises the scheme. He's a man-to-man-defense type of coach, through and through.
But with UCLA down to eight scholarship players after Tyler Lamb and Smith left the team this week, and with Howland saying that his rotation is now eight players deep, fans can expect the Bruins to play zone defense a lot more this season.
"We’re going to have to play zone," Howland said, before quickly adding, "We're not quitting on our man."
Zone defense isn't something the Bruins have practiced much, but that should change, especially because playing a zone could help keep some players out of foul trouble, a key now with a shorter bench.
And although UCLA's zone defense was effective against the Matadors, it wasn't perfect. The Matadors shot five of 26 from three-point range, but many of those misses were on wide-open looks.
"UCLA's zone threw us off a little bit," said Matadors Coach Bobby Braswell. "We were expecting it, but we didn't expect that they would use it all 40 minutes."
Bruins forward Travis Wear is a fan of the zone defense, which he said UCLA has practiced more this week.
"When we're intense and active, it's good for us," Wear said of the defensive scheme. "We’re long, and we don't really have a dominant inside presence, but we can use our quickness to affect shots."
Even without Smith and Lamb, who announced his decision to transfer Sunday, Wear said UCLA can still achieve its goal to be a great team.
"Our identity might change a little bit," he said. "We've still got a lot of talented pieces. We've got a lot of guys that think we can win games. I think we could go far this year and do a lot of great things."
In its first game without Smith, the Bruins' identity looked more than a little different. Aside from playing zone defense all game (and looking pretty good at it), UCLA also ran up-tempo for nearly the entire game, which was something that hadn't happened in any other game this season.
By the end, UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson had scored a career-high 15 points, guard Larry Drew II had a career-high 13 assists, and three other Bruins had scored in double figures, led by 17 from Norman Powell.
Another area that will change with Smith out is the rotation. Freshman center Tony Parker stands to get the bulk of the nearly 14 minutes per game that Smith was playing, but Parker suffered a sprained left ankle during warmups Wednesday, which kept him sidelined for the game.
Parker's status is unclear for UCLA's game Saturday against San Diego State in Anaheim. Anderson, a 6-foot-9 freshman guard/forward, could play more inside as well.
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